The Vanuatu archipelago—made up of 80-odd volcanic isles—lies in the southwestern Pacific, 1,100 miles east of Australia. On Efate Island, rugged mountains meet powdery white beaches and dense jungles shelter crystal-clear lagoons, painting the quintessential island paradise. The lively capital of Port Vila, meanwhile, supplies ample restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops to satisfy your urban needs. Efate Island was also used as a naval base by the U.S. 7th Fleet during World War II; travelers exploring below the waters of Havannah Harbour will find sunken seaplanes, old artillery shells, and vintage Coca-Cola bottles among the colorful corals and tropical fish.
Perched on the western edge of the Pacific Ring of Fire, Vanuatu is home to nine active volcanos—including the famed Mount Yasur, nicknamed the “lighthouse of the Pacific.” Lush vegetation blankets much of the archipelago, with the mighty banyan lording over the landscape and more than 120 species of birds thriving in the treetops and along the coast. The islands’ pristine waters harbor herds of gentle dugong—the world’s only vegetarian marine mammal—while hawksbill and green sea turtles come here to breed, swimming alongside dozens of species of tropical fish.
Vanuatu’s original inhabitants are believed to be the Lapita, a seafaring people from East Asia who began spreading across the islands of the South Pacific between 1,600 and 500 B.C. Since then, Vanuatu’s shores have seen waves of settlers from distant corners of the planet—British and French colonists, Vietnamese and Chinese immigrants, and expats from Australia and New Zealand. However, the culture of the archipelago remains strongly Melanesian: a pastiche of animist and Christian beliefs, rituals, art forms, and languages that vary from island to island. Bislama, an English-based creole, is spoken widely throughout Vanuatu, along with English and French.
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